MOST tourists only go to Marinduque during Holy Week to experience the Philippines’ biggest Lenten festival, the Moriones. This is the time when all the ferries and buses going to Marinduque are all fully booked months in advance.
But for the rest of the year, this island province at the center of the Philippine archipelago remains quiet. The province is simply way off the tourist trail. Besides the Moriones festival and the island resort of Bellarocca, nothing much is known about the other attractions of Marinduque.
Getting there is also not easy. The air connection from Manila is still temporarily suspended. Visitors to the island need to allocate at least eight hours to do the land-sea-land transfer. Quite far, considering that Marinduque is still a part of the Southern Tagalog region.
But for those bold enough to do this journey to Marinduque, they will be rewarded with some very exciting adventures like spelunking, going to deserted islands, trekking to hidden waterfalls and many more. The rustic town of Santa Cruz offers all these and much more.
Santa Cruz literally means “Holy Cross,” which is an appropriate name for the place considering Christianization of the island province started during the 17th Century. The church of Santa Cruz started construction in 1714, and the nearby Baluarte followed next. Santa Cruz is located on the west of Bontoc Peninsula. During the Spanish time, there were regular boats between Santa Cruz and the towns of Catanauan and Mulanay in Tayabas in Bontoc Peninsula.
Although Boac is the provincial capital, Santa Cruz is larger in land area and population.
How to get there
There is no direct flight anymore between Manila and Marinduque, so all visitors to the island must do the land-sea travel.
For those with private vehicles, this mean driving south from Manila via South Luzon Expressway, exit at Santo Tomas, Batangas, and continue driving to San Pablo, Laguna and then to Tiaong, Candeleria, Sariaya and up to Lucena, all in Quezon province. From there, go to Dalahican Port where there are regular Montenegro and Starhorse Ro-Ro boats (three-hour trip) to Balanacan Port in Mogpog or Cawit in Boac. From Mogpog or Boac, the drive to Santa Cruz takes less than an hour.
A more convenient way to travel to Marinduque is to take the so-called “door-to-door” service of JAC Liner (available at Cubao and Buendia terminals). For less than P1,000, a designated JAC bus takes passenger direct from Manila to Santa Cruz.
An alternative is to take any bus going to Dalahican, then take any ferry going to Balanacan or Cawit (in Boac), and from there, take a van or a jeepney to Santa Cruz.
There are also regular boats that travel between Bontoc Peninsula (Catanauan) and Santa Cruz (Buyabong Port).
What to see, what to do
Those looking for adventures will have a great time in Santa Cruz.
On top of the list is the Bathala Caves System. Located inside a private lot in Barangay Ipil, it is composed of more than eight caves, several of them requiring technical equipment and gears. Entrance to the caves is P50 per person plus P300 guide fee. The biggest and the most accessible is called Cathedral Cave. There is also another cave with an underground lagoon. But the most challenging is entering the Python Cave, a cave filled with, what else but phythons!
For island hopping adventures, rent a boat at Buyabong Port (P3,000 per day). The trip starts very early in the morning to be able to enjoy the Palad Sand Bar at low tide. Along the way, one can also see the Sunong Bato Rock Formation. It’s an unusual formation where a big rock rests on a standing column rock. But the highlight of the island hopping is the visit to Maniwaya Island. It has a kilometer of white sand beach and its waters are teeming with live corals and colorful fishes. There are now several resorts on the island, but it is still possible to camp there on the beach for free. There are also several fine white sand beaches in the islands of Mongpong and Salomague.
There are also trails that lead to hidden falls: Kawa-Kawa in Banguangan; Altar in Devilla; and Busay in Pag-asa.
In Poblacion, visit the Church of the Holy Cross that was built in 1714. It has original walls as thick as two meters. A few hundred meters from the church is the Old Baluarte. This was used during the Spanish time as watch-tower for incoming invaders.
Where to stay, what to eat
There are several lodging places in Poblacion. Dewey’s Restaurant and Lodging House has non-air-conditioned rooms and a restaurant. CJ Lodging House, Fantasia Hootel, Maharlika Lodging Inn, Moriones Hotel, Park View Lodge and Rico’s Inn have air-condioned and non-air-conditioned rooms.
In Maniwaya Island, there are several cottages for rent at Palo Maria Resort Sanctuary for P1,500 to P2,000 per night. They also allow beach camping for P300 per tent.
In Santa Cruz public market, fresh seafood at very affordable prices are available every morning. However, none of the town’s restaurants and eateries has freshly-cooked seafood in their menu. They only serve the usual fare like pork adobo and fried chicken. The next best thing is to get invited by the locals for either lunch or dinner. The people of Santa Cruz are very hospitable. They are happy to see outsiders visit their town. This your chance to taste fresh seafood so bring small gifts to give to the locals in return.
The town’s favorite pasalubong is the baked cookies made from arrow-root or uraro from Rejano’s Bakery.
The town has another food specialty, though, which is their miki [noodles]. There are several small shops in Santa Cruz that makes the miki and export them to the mainland as an OTOP (one-town, one-product) of Santa Cruz. All the local restaurants claim to have the best pansit miki. Try them all. If you are lucky, the waiter or the cook will go out, bring out his guitar and serenade you while you are eating their pansit miki. It is called patungan – Marinduque’s traditional way of welcoming guests.